Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back in Action.....

Today is the first day of spring in Australia. A chance to renew the old and take on the new.

It's been quite a while since my last blogg. Personal and family changes have continued to get in the way of my interest in Việt Nam railways, but hopefully things are now back on track.

I have added a few bits and pieces to the website but I still have a backlog of material. At the moment I'm redesigning the 'Freight' page which will become similar to the 'Locomotive' page ie. an index page and then separate pages for each type of freight vehicle. This should make it easier to update and add new data as it comes to hand.

My plan is to do the same thing for the 'Coach' page but I think that is still some time away.

My other plan is to produce a brief history of railways in Việt Nam which will be in the form of a PDF booklet which can be downloaded. In the back of my head I see this as a test run for a possibly much larger volume, similar to the recently republished 'Railways of Thailand', which could be commercially published (if any publisher is interested), but I think that is still a long way away.

All these plans take time to complete, so don't hold your breathe.

I'm also currently trying to learn Vietnamese by attending Vietnamese language classes but this is a long slow process. Isn't it sad that as you get older your brain seems to have a lot more trouble 'assimilating' new knowledge and learning new skills. At least that's how it is for me.

There is also the possibility of myself travelling to Việt Nam  to live for a longer period of time, which I think will enable me to access large amounts of information that is not available to me now, as well as continue to build my own photo collection.

So, if anyone is still reading this blogg... welcome back.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A long tme between drinks....

Once again I must apologize to the person who reads this blog. Yes you know who you are!
It's been a long time between drinks!

I've had some major changes in my life over the last couple of months, I've moved and had to set up a new house. My work committments have and will continue to change and I have a future wedding/marriage to contemplate. Hopefully I'm more settled now so more time to blog. As the wedding will be in Vietnam it will be strange and interesting for me. So I've had no time for website updating or modelling until very recently.

I've  added some more bits and pieces to the website so hopefully some people will find that useful. I intend to do a major revamp when I get time so watch out for that, especially the freight and passenger sections, with a seperate page for each kind/class of vehicle..

As my future wife's family comes from the Phan Rang/Thap Cham area you will forgive me if lots of my photos on my website are from that area. It's the place I know the best.

I've had a bit of a think about the matters in the previous blog (relating to travelling on the DSVN) and now feel that maybe I was a bit harsh. I'm sure the DSVN staff were doing that best in a less than ideal situation.

I'm reminded of something that a manager in the rail system that I work for said a few years ago. He said we have to change the way we think about the main aim of what we do from 'running a railway' to 'providing a service'. When you 'run a railway' you concentrate on operating technology, changing points (turnouts) running locomotives and trains, operating signalling systems, shunting (switching) and so on. In this scenario customers are really a bit of a nuisance. In 'providing a service' we turn everything around so the customer becomes the most important aspect, 'operating' is just a way of providing the service that customers want. It's a big change and not so easy to introduce. I feel that DSVN hasn't quite made the shift yet. Just my personal thoughts.

The above photos was taken at Thap Cham in March. It's amazing that the D9Es (GE U8B) are still going strong in the south after all these years. Some of them must be nearly 45 years old!

And I'm not getting any younger either. So on that note I'll finish this blog. See you next time.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Travelling on the VNR...

Sorry about the gap between entries. I'll try not to let it happen again.

I've recently returned from my third trip to Vietnam (I must be a gluton for punishment!). During my most recent trip I made two journeys on the DSVN, both on SE8, the first from Thap Cham to Hue and the second from Hue to Hanoi.

I have to be honest and say that these were not the greatest train trips I have ever made, in fact after these two, I'm not sure I want to travel by train in Vietnam again!

There was an article in the English language 'Vietnam News' which was about how tourists were deserting Vietnam railways in droves, because of the poor service and poor quality carriages. Apparently less than 7% of tourists travel by train. I'm not surprised.  I have to say I was reading the article on a very pleasant air trip by Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Saigon so the comparison was even more apparent..

Anyway on with my experiences. The train from Thap Cham to Hue was about half an hour late, which I suppose isn't too bad considering it had spent the previous 6 hours travelling from Saigon. We were booked on SE8 'Cold, soft seats' said the poster on the wall. I presume they meant airconditioned and soft seats. I had specifically booked 'A' but not sleeping as we would arrive at Hue at about  2.00 am and expected to sleep in our hotel.

I must say staff of VNR must have never heard of Customer Service. (I work for the rail system here in Sydney, Australia, so know something about Customer Service). Passengers had to struggle from the low level platform onto the train with their luggage and absolutely no help from the staff who just stood and watched. On board the train again no help was provided to find your seat, which were helpfully numbered on the back of the seat in front. Total chaos. (Every time we stopped at a station we went through the same madness, with people struggling with luggage and trying to find their seats, with of course no help from the coach staff) Once we had found our seats, the foot room for big westerners like myself was very small and very uncomfortable. Aparently seats on VNR trains can be folded to an almost horizontal position, either that or the seat back was broken, which meant that the woman sitting in the seat in front of my travelling companion almost had her head in my companion's lap! It took several hours to convince her to put her seat up. During the trip the unsmiling VNR staff seemed to be totally uninterested and were only seen when they were trying to sell us something, usually food. The food on the train was very poor, my travelling companion, a Vietnamese national, wouldn't touch it with a forty foot pole. There was no attempt to provide alternatives for non-Vietnamese passengers either. I wouldn't have a problem with that if the Vietnamese food provided was of a reasonable standard. The trip was very uncomfortable, and the 14 hours seemed to go very slowly. The toilet was dirty as well. The carriage windows were covered in a film of dust, which made photography very difficult.

Our second trip was from Hue to Hanoi, a journey of about 13 hours, again on SE8. Our coach this time was an ex 'Green Train' coach which had certainly seen better days, though the windows were a bit cleaner! The train was supposed to have departed Hue at 2.08 am (yes that's right, 2 o'clock in the morning!) but guess what, was about half an hour late! I must congratulate the train crew as it was almost on time into Hanoi. Again the train was dirty, the seats had a sort of oily, gritty feel, which told me they had not been cleaned in a very long time. As it was the same train as our first journey the problems were pretty much the same. Food? Awful. Toilets? Dirty (and Vietnamese 'squat' type rather than the more usual western 'sit' style). Apparently only about 10% of Vietnamese trains have modern toilets. Customer Service? Non existant. As well there was something wrong with the airconditioning as I ended up with a terrible sinus headache (bad airconditioning treats me like this).

We finally arrived in Hanoi feeling tired and less than pleased with the trip.

There was some evidence that things might change in the future, with a number of bridge replacement projects noted on the way. But as long as the main line is single track and the safeworking/signalling systems are so old, the trains will always be slow. For a railfan such as myself it was very frustrating not to be able to go onto the platforms until just before the train arrived. I've never seen that before.  At Hue I asked if I could go onto the platform to take photographs and was told to come back when the next train arrived (about 2 hours away).

The coaches on the highways are faster, more comfortable, cheaper and stop at very reasonable comfort stops. As we waited at Hue at 2.00 am I heard one tourist state that this was her last trip by train. It would be road coach from now on.

Oh, and I wish they'd do something about the brakes!